SCOUTING THE SCARLET KNIGHTS
Rutgers has been bitten this season by not making shots or big plays at key times. Despite showing improvement throughout the Big East season, especially in the last four weeks, the Knights have buried themselves with a 4-11 league mark and frankly are playing spoiler for the remainder of the season. Head coach Mike Rice has a decent amount of youth on the roster, and is working toward the following seasons by developing better prospects. The Pittsburgh native and former Robert Morris head coach is getting very balanced scoring across the starting five. Forward Jonathan Mitchell (6-7, 225 lbs.) leads the team with 14.4 points per game with almost six rebounds. The senior can hit from anywhere on the floor and is making 40 percent from beyond the arc. He isn't an attacker off the dribble, and doesn't get to the line a ton. But he hustles, and he is often a right-place, right-time style of player.
Frontcourt mate Gilvydas Biruta (6-8, 230 lbs.) has very good size and strength for a freshman. He's averaging nine points and five rebounds and makes more than 50 percent from the field. He isn't a deep shooter, though, and prefers to operate on the block. He could struggle with Kevin Jones' added power, and this should be a match-up West Virginia wins as long as Jones stays out of foul trouble. Three-man Dane Miller (6-7, 215 lbs.), nine points and six rebounds, has been streaky this season and has yet to consistently hit open or elongated jumpers. The sophomore isn't good from the line, and is simply not making as many plays as Rice would like. The staff expects much more production on a per-shot basis, especially from a player who will need to lead next year's team. He is athletic, though, and can block shots. This is arguably Rutgers' best defender.
Rice does have an experienced backcourt with a pair of seniors in Mike Coburn (6-0, 185 lbs.) and James Beatty (6-2, 190 lbs.). Coburn, the point guard, plays the most minutes of anyone on the team with 32-plus. He flashes some quickness, but, again, isn't a strong shooter. Coburn's steady, though, and he won't force plays or passes and is very strong in assist-to-turnover ratio. Beatty, the two-guard, makes 39 percent from the floor, 37 from three. He seldom passes up a shot, and he has taken 42 more than any teammate. He's 70 percent at the stripe and has good floor vision and passing ability. He will force more plays than Coburn, though, and is prone to turnovers at times.
|Sun. Feb. 27
Rutgers Athletic Center
WVU 17-10, 8-7
RU 13-14, 4-11
Big East Network
WVU - 20
RU - 114
Rutgers uses three to four key reserves pending on foul trouble and match-ups. Swingman Mike Poole (6-5, 190 lbs.) is typically the first into the game and averages 6.4 points and more than three rebounds. The freshman doesn't shoot particularly well, and he's awful from three-point range at 16.7 percent on just 18 shots. He can get to the bucket, though, and is among the better free throw shooters on the team. Austin Johnson (6-8, 250 lbs.) and Robert Lumpkins (6-7, 215 lbs.) play 12 to 16 minutes each and net about four points per game each. Johnson is a solid defender, and operates only on the interior on offense. Lumpkins is a bit more versatile, and will hit foul shots. About half his shots have come from three-point range, and West Virginia will need to guard him away from the hoop. The lone backcourt reserve is Austin Carroll (6-3, 200 lbs.). Another freshman, Carroll plays 10 minutes and averages a couple points with a rebound and an assist. His shot has not been as good as he likely would want, and he isn't a great defender. In all, this is a bench with which WVU should compete effectively.
Rutgers is getting outrebounded and outshot in conference play, but the remainder of the state line doesn't indicate any glaring problems. The assist-to-turnover ratio is about even, the overall shooting marks are decent and there's a mix of experience and youth that the coaching staff can build upon. The Knights have lost some close games, and played upper-level league foes very well through February. Their issue is an inability to make shots at key times or make the big play down the stretch. This game will be much more difficult than most would judge simply looking at records. West Virginia must show it actually wants the victory via hustle, tough man defense and slowing the Knights in transition. Any kind of half effort will not get it done – and frankly WVU can ill afford to lose this game, even with a pair of home contests to finish the regular season. A win begins to push West Virginia totally off the bubble. A loss and the Mountaineers could be pressed into winning at least one at home to clinch an NCAA berth.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season.
RU: G Tyree Graham (Knee), Out for Season.
With one more Big East road win, Bob Huggins will have amassed the most (18) of any West Virginia head coach. He needs three wins to reach 100 at WVU. Huggins is 8-0 against Rutgers.
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WVU has predicted to finish fifth in the Big East preseason poll. The Mountaineers have finished higher or equal to their preseason prediction each of the last eight years.
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West Virginia has made at least one three-pointer in 384 consecutive games. The last time the Mountaineers did not make a three-pointer was against Robert Morris on Nov. 27, 1999.
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Kevin Jones reached 1,000 career points recently. Truck Bryant needs 47 points to become WVU's 48th 1,000-point scorer.
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West Virginia is 15-7 versus Rutgers since both programs joined the Big East. The Mountaineers have won five in a row in the series. They have won two straight at Rutgers. WVU has won more games at the RAC than at any other Big East venue.
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West Virginia needs two more victories to reach 1,600 all-time in men's basketball. WVU has lost 999 games all-time. The 1,598 wins are the 22nd most in Division I basketball history.